As I continue working my way through new music being released by artists I’ve previously featured on this blog, I now bring you British indie folk artist Holly Rees. Based in Newcastle, the talented singer-songwriter and guitarist has been writing and recording exceptional music over the past five years or so. Her honest, relatable lyrics, often inspired by her own personal experiences, are wrapped in beautiful, understated melodies and fine guitar work, and delivered with her lovely, highly emotive vocals.
This past December, Holly released her sublime EP The Lost Songs, featuring five acoustic songs she recorded in isolation during lockdown. You can read my review of the EP here. Now she returns with a new single “English Bay“, which she wrote in 2019 while on tour in Canada. The song was recorded with her band members Ryan Peebles on bass and Rhys Melhuish on drums, and thus has a fuller, more hard-driving sound than the acoustic tracks on The Lost Songs.
The song starts off gently, with Holly’s slightly grungy strummed guitar and smooth vocals as she sings of a woman who catches her eye: “She walked past me with her headphones in singing her heart out. A Stanley Park evening. I guess I do the exact same thing.” Thirty seconds in, the rhythm section kicks in with Ryan’s driving bassline and Rhys’ snappy drums, turning the song into a vibrant, head-bopping rocker. Holly’s gnarly guitar hums with greater urgency as the song progresses, her plaintive vocals rising to the occasion and brimming with heartfelt emotion, but still upbeat enough to avoid becoming maudlin.
The lyrics speak to feelings many of us have experienced when embarking on a new romantic relationship, unsure as to whether we want to truly commit to another person, but also fearful we’ll screw things up and scare them off: “And I keep saying I’m trying, and I wonder if it’s true. Come on, bear with me ’til I get cold feet, and tell me to stop messing around./ I guess I never listen when they told me, everyone’s a little bit lonely.”
Holly Rees is a talented and thoughtful singer-songwriter based in Newcastle, England who’s been writing and recording exceptional indie folk songs for the past five years or so. Like many songwriters, her poetic lyrics are inspired by personal experiences that make them highly relatable to us listeners. She then delivers them wrapped in beautiful, understated melodies, fine guitar work and lovely, heartfelt vocals, all of which have earned her critical acclaim and a loyal following, with flattering comparisons to artists like Laura Marling and Courtney Barnett.
Holly released her debut EP Ilex in 2017, garnering airplay on BBC 6 Music and a feature on Tom Robinson’s BBC Introducing Mixtape. In 2018, she performed at the Hit The North and Evolution Emerging music festivals, and released her excellent second EP Slow Down. She followed with “Text Me When You Get There”: The Live EP in May 2019, and that September, dropped her single “Getting By“, which I reviewed. On December 10th, she surprised us with release of The Lost Songs, an all-acoustic EP originally recorded in isolation exclusively for her Patreon supporters (patreon.com/hollyrees) that she’s now gifted to the world.
She explains: “Here are the lost songs – songs I’ve written over the past three years that have fallen down the gaps. I never really intended these sad soft songs to see the light of day, but coming towards the end of another year I thought it might be nice to share them now, as a gentle winter gift before we draw a line under the year and start fresh in 2022. As some of you know, I’ve had to shield for a lot of the past two years, which is where this project started, in isolation. Every part of this project I’ve done by myself – writing, playing, recording, mixing, mastering, even the artwork – and I’m really proud of that. I hope that in listening you might find some of the joy, peace or escape that I found in making it.”
It’s a gentle EP, featuring five melancholy but lovely acoustic folk songs addressing conflicting emotions stemming from lost loves, missed connections, and the passage of time. With only her beautifully strummed guitar notes and clear, soothing vocals, Holly has created exquisite little gems that are simple yet profound, with a quiet intensity that touches the soul. The opening track “heather” is a kind of love song to her home of North East England (she told me that she actually got a heather tattoo right before leaving for her Canada tour in 2019, as an homage to the heather on the moors where she grew up): “I could be anywhere, except that the rain is making me homesick. Cry at your records, you were always such a sensitive soul. I tried to wear my heart on my sleeve but I must have got cold. And I feel open for the first time in a year.“
Likewise, the enchanting “victoria” is a heartbreak song to the British Columbia capital city: “Oh Victoria, I think you always knew that I would fall for her. Victoria. She broke my heart for a year, god was I trying. But first came Victoria, Vancouver Island.” On the bittersweet song of unrequited love “i justwant you“, Holly softly laments about being hopelessly in love with someone who just doesn’t feel the same about her: “Tell me about your family and living with your brothers. Tell me all your favourite streets, your heartbreaks and lovers. Tell me everything except the one thing I won’t ask. You don’t tell me if you feel the same. I know that you can’t do. I know it’s all on me, but I’m sick of writing about things that I can’t change. But I can’t change. I just want you.”
She touches on how shyness and fear of rejection sometimes hold us back, possibly losing out on opportunities for love on “seattle“. She sings of seeing a woman she’s attracted to on a bus in Seattle, but being too afraid to make contact: “Don’t know why I still hide like I’m seventeen. Smile and I won’t meet your eyes. You take down your bike. This must be your stop and we’re out of time. Go to Seattle maybe you were the one.” The serene “glad it’s you” has a bit of a Joni Mitchell vibe, and finds Holly content in a loving and trusting relationship: “Been singing with my all exposed. Been listening with my eyes closed, but my heart’s open. No I haven’t felt like this in a long time a long time, but I’m glad it’s you.“
The Lost Songs is a wonderful little EP that beautifully showcases Holly’s strong songwriting, singing, recording and production talents. I’m confident she’ll continue to impress us with more outstanding music in 2022.
Since the release of their spellbinding debut single “Lisbon” in March 2020, British electronic pop band NOPRISM have been on a creative tear. Formed in early 2020 and based in Newcastle Upon Tyne, NOPRISM are comprised of Andrew Young, Mark Nelson, Phil Taylor and Alex Hindle. Influenced by a wide and eclectic array of artists ranging from The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem and Arcade Fire to Daft Punk, Chaka Khan and Talking Heads, they create exciting and innovative electronic pop music loaded with infectious funky grooves and intoxicating dance vibes. Their songs have garnered both critical and popular acclaim, with their single “Happiness” earning praise by Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon as “perhaps the best new song ever” on his Wooosh! Radio show.
Despite the limitations imposed upon them by the Covid pandemic, they managed to make good use of their down time by recording and releasing seven singles, the latest of which is “Animosity“, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week. The song addresses the contradictions between the joys of love, and the sacrifices we sometimes make to have it. Band vocalist Andrew Young elaborates: “I’m always fascinated (obsessed) about the idea that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and the idea of love is no different. Very often you see people giving up important things or opportunities in their lives for the sake of love. But obviously it’s why we’re all here, and the positives that it brings is what makes us human.We decided to write a song for voguing to, but with our own imprint on it.“
Inspired by the campy vogue music played on the wonderful MJ Rodriguez/Billy Porter TV show Pose, the band initially wrote the song as a distraction during the first lockdown, then put it out on Spotify under a pseudonym. After the song started getting airplay on BBC radio, they quickly realized they had a potential hit on their hands. Consequently, they pulled the song, re-recorded it with the full band, had it remixed and re-mastered, and released it under their own name. This new and improved version of “Animosity” is what we’re now blessed with.
The guys start with a strutting bass-driven groove, fortify it with energetic thumping drums and swirling cinematic synths, then add layers of funky and bluesy guitars to create a soulful and sensuous dance track that aims straight for the hips, while at the same time producing a lush wall of sound that beautifully captures the joy and euphoria of love. The guys’ pleasing vocal harmonies are wonderful too, adding to the song’s overall jubilant vibe. It’s a marvelous song.
The stylish video, shot in black and white, shows a group of beautiful and exotic-looking young people posing and vogueing to the song.
Dunes is a British stoner rock band based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). Influenced by some of their favorite bands like Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch, they play an aggressive style of what they call “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, followed by their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which they released in September 2019 (you can read my review here). Now the guys are back with their first new single in 16 months, “This Must Be the Plague“. Released through Sapien Records Ltd., it’s four minutes of hard-driving stoner rock goodness, which I’ve chosen as my New Song of the Week.
The song blasts through the gate with an explosive barrage of grungy riffs slicing through the airwaves like a rogue buzzsaw, driven by a powerful chugging bass line and thunderous drums. The guys are all strong musicians who play as a tight unit, and despite the time gap between the release of their album and this single, not to mention the fact they’ve not been able to perform live, it’s clear they’ve not lost their groove one bit. Davies’ nimble guitar work is superb, and Huggins and Watson do a masterful job keeping the pulse-pounding rhythms at full throttle.
About the song’s meaning, I guessed it to be a commentary about how the Covid pandemic is our modern version of The Plague, with the line “We’re the disease, and that’s the cure” suggesting that people are both the cause and the solution. When I asked Davies about it, he said I was basically correct, but elaborated: “The track was originally written early 2020 pre-pandemic world. It’s a reflection on the feeling that we’re staring down the complete downfall of society with people becoming more and more polarised and divided day by day. It didn’t feel like there was a way back. Then a pandemic happened. We’re not hopeful, but we’ll at least make some noise and have a drink while the ship goes down.”
It appears the pandemic made “This Must Be the Plague” all the more relevant and timely. And though it may not be a solution, I’m certainly always down for some good music accompanied by an adult beverage!
I’m back in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England (having recently written about folk singer-songwriter Holly Rees), this time to feature another act from that city, a stoner rock band called Dunes. Formed in late 2016, the trio consists of John Davies (guitar, vocals), Ade Huggins (bass, vocals) and Nikky Watson (drums). In their own words, they play “desert-riff-blues-tinted-disco-tinged-rock, which draws on influences such as Queens of the Stone Age, Torche, Death From Above 1979 and Clutch.” During their first 18 months as a band, they recorded and released two 5-track EPs, then began releasing singles in advance of their wonderfully-titled debut album Take Me to the Nasties, which dropped September 6th. The album was recorded at the Sandcastle in Newcastle under the guidance of Graham Thompson, who also worked on the band’s previous EPs, and mastered by Dave Draper. It was released via Sapien Records (We Are Knuckle Dragger, Big Lad, Tank Engine, Scott Michael Cavagan).
The album blasts open with the rousing title track “Take Me to the Nasties“, and from this point forward, Dunes never let up on their relentless onslaught of head-banging stoner-punk rock’n’roll grooves. Here, their barrage of jagged riffs, crushing bass and pummeling drums leave us little choice but to pogo about like crazed banshees. I can’t quite make out all the lyrics, but as the title implies, Davies sings about sexual frustration, telling someone they can keep their tinder and grinder, and he’s going to the nasties.
Without skipping a beat, they launch headlong into “SOS“, a bombastic tune with a chugging guitar riff that reminds me a bit of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”, though overall, the song sounds very different. Besides the great guitar work, I also really like Davies and Huggins’ vocal harmonies as they implore “I’ll tell you what we all need. This shit to stop happening!” “Been Expecting You“, “Release the Clowns” and “Danger Mouth” keep the heavy, guitar-driven vibes coming on strong with thunderous riffs and speaker-blowing rhythms. I’m a sucker for hard-driving rock grooves, and gotta say I’m loving every track on this beast of an album!
And one of my favorites is “Phantom Head“, a moody, near-epic grunge song that ventures into progressive/hard rock territory with its melodic change-ups, tortured gnarly riffs, intense, reverb-heavy bassline and explosive percussion. The fierce guitar solo in the bridge is fucking spectacular, covering me head to toe with chills. On “Shakamoto’s Revenge“, “Lantern” and “Denim Casket“, Dunes seem to channel the early Foo Fighters with frantic, grungy riffs and powerful, driving rhythms. In fact, Davies’ vocals even sound a bit like Dave Grohl’s at times, including his scream at the end of “Shakamoto’s Revenge.”
“Everything is Blue” closes the album on a high note with some mighty tasty psychedelic reverb-soaked guitar work that’s freakin’ fantastic! The song also has a somewhat progressive rock vibe, with interesting time and melodic changes and intense instrumentation, giving the track a complex, fuller sound that makes for a riveting listen.
Take Me to the Nasties is a solid album filled to the brim with hard-hitting rock tunes, all of them superb. There’s not a single throwaway or filler track to be found here, as every track could be a hit single. Davies, Huggins and Watson are three incredible musicians at the top of their game who should be very proud of their latest creation. I love it!